From SABR member Sarah Johnson at City Pages on May 23, 2017, with mention of SABR member Jean Ardell:
When Ila Borders took the mound for the St. Paul Saints in 1997, people dismissed her as a publicity stunt, the latest in a series of quirky promotions hatched by the cheeky independent league team. But she was no gimmick; she was making history. That year, ticket holders to the sold-out season would bear witness to the first woman to play men’s professional baseball since the Negro Leagues era.
In her new book, Making My Pitch: A Woman’s Baseball Odyssey, Borders relays the struggles and triumphs of being a trailblazer of our national pastime. That includes being referred to as “that thing” by an opposing Northern League manager and receiving death threats.
“Anytime you’re a woman trying to break into a male-dominated field you spend time trying to prove yourself,” says Borders. “Once [my teammates] realized I wasn’t there to pick up guys or for the publicity — I was just there to play baseball — I’d see them diving for balls for me, encouraging me. They know how hard it is to play this game.”
Borders had a successful four-year career. Her best season came in 1999 while playing for Madison Black Wolf. There, she posted a 1.67 ERA in 15 appearances. “I loved the game, and never really felt like what I went through wasn’t worth it until my last year, and that’s why I decided to retire,” she says. “Mike Veeck [co-owner of the St. Paul Saints] offered me a job as a pitching coach, but I said no because my head wasn’t in it at the time. That’s the one thing I regret.”
Originally published: May 24, 2017. Last Updated: May 24, 2017.